Commentary on Political Economy

Tuesday 1 November 2011

The Neoclassical Reaction and the negatives Denken

“I cannot discover this oceanic feeling in myself. It is difficult to deal scientifically with feelings. One can attempt to describe their physiological signs.”

In Civilisation and Its Discontents (better translated as “the dis-ease or un-ease of Culture”), Freud blankly rejects the suggestion by Romain Rolland that human beings are able to empathise, and therefore to sym-pathise, with one another and with the world. In Schopenhauer it is precisely this Mit-leid, this “shared pain” or literally “sym-pathy” that allows the human understanding to become “reflectively” aware of the insatiability of the Will, of the evanescence of its “appetite”. The pleasure (Lust)  of the attainment of the goal of the Will – its satis-faction – is also immediately the extinction of the pleasure, its ful-filment, its com-pletion which also marks its “end”. The point of the Askesis then cannot be the Christian one of “be mindful of mortality”, of “all things must pass” – because the real “negation” of the “transience” of being, of the futility of “craving” and “seeking” is not and cannot be “labor” – that is, the physical annihilation of the Body. Rather, it must be the vanquishing and the quelling of the Will, of its aimless and in-exhaustible “hunger” for pleasure and satisfaction – and consequently the “Pain” (Leid) of this dis-enchantment.

It is not and cannot be the “Labor”, then – the Arbeit – that can offer ab-solution, relief and release from this “search”, from this “Strife”, this “Eris”. No. It can and it must be the ab-straction from this “search”, this “pursuit” itself – be it the “pursuit” of happiness or pleasure or profit! In this perspective, in this “world-view”, the Arbeit or Labor are not and cannot be the “solution” to the problem of existence: they can be and they are instead part and parcel of that “problem”. Labor cannot be the source of any “Value”, of any summum bonum, of any pleasure or “good”. As a means to an end – the obtaining of gratification of “needs and desires” – Labor cannot be the “cause and source” of Value; it can only be the “opposite” of Value. Labor cannot have a “utility”, it can have only a “dis-utility”. “Value” is a property of “goods”, not of Labor. And Labor is only a “means for “obtaining the goods”. Labor “works” its Object; it “consumes” the Object so as to obtain its “objective”, what it “strives for”, what it “wills”. It follows necessarily that Labor does not “create” anything, it does not pro-duce anything, but that it merely “utilizes” what exists already, its Object, and simply trans-forms it into something else to ensure its survival and reproduction.

There is no inter esse therefore between the labor-power of individual workers. What brings the workers together, what permits and makes possible the “sociality” of Labor is not Labor itself but rather the Object, the means of production – it is Capital! By clinging to the idea of “Sym-Pathy”, of Mit-Leid, Schopenhauer is piously and pathetic-ally contradicting the entire inversion of the Hegelian “dialectic of self-consciousness” that moves precisely from this “oceanic feeling” that Freud, following Nietzsche, steadfastly denies in favour of “the Reality Principle”, of the “conflict” between the Ego and the External World! Life is Will to Life. Life is Conflict! No “mediation” is possible: no Dialectic! And Capital represents the primacy – the supremacy, the domination! – of the Object over the Subject, of Property over Sym-Pathy, of Capital over Labor.

Foolish to believe that human beings can “create” Value: the first principle of physics is that nothing is created and everything is trans-formed! Labor quite simply trans-forms the Value that exists already and emanates from the Object into something that can satisfy and fulfil its “need”, its “necessity”. The “ideality” of human activity – what presumably originates and constitutes its pro-duction is only a “feeling” which is inscrutable and therefore incapable of “scientific” verification: all we can “see” or “experience” are its “sensations”, its “physiological signs”! Freud here completes with Viennese logic the scientific theories of his Viennese contemporary – the great philosopher of science and scientist, Ernst Mach.

(To be continued)

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